Where will the negative campaigning in the San Diego mayoral race take us?
By Andy Cohen
Negative campaigning works. It’s a simple fact of our political world, otherwise it wouldn’t be such a constant. Yes, we all complain about it, lament how dirty and slimy our politics have gotten. But even the most disgusted among us has to admit that the negative campaign ads and rhetoric has an effect on our opinions of the candidates. And despite promises to wage “positive” campaigns, every single candidate eventually wades into the muck and sullies him or herself in the mud. It becomes unavoidable.
The 2013 primary race to see who would complete Bob Filner’s first term as Mayor was certainly no exception. In fact, it could be argued that it was messier than most others. In an abbreviated election cycle, candidates have to scratch and claw to distinguish themselves from their opponents, particularly when there are multiple big-name candidates running. The fastest and easiest way to do that is through negative campaigning.
During the primary, there was one common denominator: Both Faulconer and Alvarez supporters actively targeted Nathan Fletcher, the third place finisher. According to iNewsource, the Political Action Committees for the Lincoln Club and San Diegans to Protect Jobs and the Economy, both supporting Faulconer, and both chaired by April Boling, who is also the treasurer for the Faulconer for Mayor campaign, spent well over $500,000, mostly on negative ads against Nathan Fletcher. Likewise, the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, backing David Alvarez, also spent heavily on negative advertising against Fletcher.
Both campaigns clearly viewed Fletcher as the biggest threat, with the pro-Faulconer forces openly supporting the Alvarez campaign, believing him to be far more vulnerable in a runoff. And while Alvarez did absorb some attacks from the Fletcher camp, both he and Faulconer emerged from the November 19 election relatively unscathed.
That will change in short order. The question is where the negative attack campaigns go from here? The Lincoln Club will now turn its ire from Fletcher to Alvarez after cynically supporting his candidacy in the primary. While Fletcher presented a rather large and easy target, Alvarez presents a different challenge in that there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot to attack. Hit him on his inexperience? Been tried already, and it was a line that failed fairly miserably. Target his racial heritage? Not if you don’t want to be run out of town on a rail or risk being tarred and feathered, particularly in a city with an estimated 28.2% Latino/Hispanic population.
The most likely line of attack will be the amount of support that Alvarez as received from the San Diego Labor community, the Labor Council in particular. But it’s a line of attack that, especially in this day and age of massive income inequality, should be fairly easily turned in Alvarez’ favor. A platform of supporting raising the minimum wage (76% of Americans support it), a living wage for low income workers, protecting workers’ rights, and economic fairness is not likely to be viewed as a negative, unless you are a hard right Republican voter, in which case you wouldn’t vote for Alvarez anyway.
Labor’s support of Alvarez is sure to rile up the Republican base, but likely won’t carry a whole lot of juice with the rest of the electorate in the negative.
Faulconer, on the other hand, is a different story. His staunch opposition to raising the minimum wage and a living wage ordinance, fondness for austerity measures, and maniacally pro-corporate policy positions will make a soft target for Alvarez and his allies. His status as the “Chosen One” by the establishment GOP is a meaty morsel for his opponents, despite his feigned efforts to run away from the Republican Party. Faulconer is viewed as an enemy of the working class, a label that will be hung around his neck as an anchor. And with the popularity of the GOP at historic lows, his status as the Republican poster boy will not likely help his cause. Trickledown economics is a fraud, yet Faulconer is still a true believer who is eager to do the bidding of the business elites, including and especially Doug Manchester.
With the latest polling showing the race to be a dead heat, the runoff election will likely boil down to two things: Which candidate can drive voter turnout, and whose economic policies San Diegans believe will drive economic growth and development. And considering the blatant dishonesty of Faulconer’s supporters, look for him to be buried under an avalanche of negative advertising.